Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Oskar Speck

Almost unheard of in most sea kayaking circles Oskar Speck must rank as one the greatest paddlers of all time.  He was born in Hamburg in 1907 and like many other Germans he was the victim of the economic depression, which gripped the country in the early 1930's.  He lost his job, when the factory he worked at closed down, so he decided to undertake a kayak journey, hoping to find work in Cyprus.   

On the 13th February 1932 he launched at Ulm on the Danube.  He was paddling a 5.5 metre two-man kayak built by Pioneer.  He followed the course of The Danube before entering the Aegean Sea.  Paddling via a number of Greek islands he reached the Turkish coast before crossing to Cyprus, but by now he had given up thoughts of working on the Mediterranean isle.  From there he crossed to Syria, in two days, before taking his kayak apart and catching a bus to the Euphrates.  From there it was along the Iranian coast before heading for India.  In Madras he took delivery of his third kayak.  In 1936 he arrived in Burma before following the coast of Thailand and Malaysia.  He partly financed his expedition by giving lectures along the way.
His fourth kayak came into use in Singapore.  From there he wandered through the islands of the Indonesian archipelago, to reach Papua New Guinea he had to complete a 110 kilometre open crossing.  He crossed to Thursday Island, off Australia, on 20th September 1939, after having paddled over 55,000 kilometres. 
Unfortunately the Second World War had just been declared and as Speck was a German he was arrested.  He spent the next 7 years of his life in an internment camp!  Some reward for having paddled so far and endured a huge number of incidents including pirates, sharks, storms etc.  He died in 1995 at the age of 88, still in Australia having run an opal dealing business, in the years following the end of hostilities.  One of the great unsung heroes of 20th century kayaking.
The magazine of the New South Wales Sea Kayak Club contains far more information about this amazing adventure. 
It would be interesting to know what distances some of the more active sea kayakers of recent years have covered, and how it compares to the distances paddled by the pioneering kayakers of the early to middle years of the 20th Century.  Do you know what your lifetime total is?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Morning Session

Not surprisingly it was another grey morning, where has the sun gone this month?  In contrast to the last few days the wind had swung around to the north west but the temperature was still struggling to rise above 2 degrees.  In these conditions Ouaisne offered the most interesting kayaking conditions for the Jersey Canoe Club Sunday morning session.
Between Pt le Fret and Portelet the cliffs are fairly steep and some have been developed for rock climbing.  Today there were two Peregrines soaring above the headland.  Always a spectacular sight.
Portelet Bay has its small island, Ile au Guerdain, often referred to, inaccurately, as Janvrin's Tomb.  Philippe Janvrin, a St Brelade's sea captain, had been dead for ninety years when the tower was built, although it is true to say that he was initially buried here as his body was not allowed to be brought ashore.
 Les Fours Buoy with Noirmont headland behind.   It is off the south coast of Jersey and all maritime traffic heading towards St Helier passes between the buoy and the headland behind.  If you didn't know your cardinal marks you could be caught out here.
 Some of the Jersey Canoe Club group around Les Fours Buoy with the south west coast of the island behind.
 Noirmont Tower which serves as a lighthouse, with a visible range of 13 miles.  Construction was started in 1810 and finished 4 years later, part of extensive fortifications to help defend the island from French invasion.  It is rare that sea conditions, in this area, are as calm as they were today

Saturday, January 19, 2013

St Brelade's Bay

It was another bitterly cold day although the majority of yesterdays snowfall had disappeared.  There were just a few patches on some of the cliffs and beaches.  I decided to have a quick tour of the sights of St Brelade's Bay.  A bit of fresh air and exercise but the temperature was still hovering between 1 and 2 degrees so I decided to make it a fairly brisk paddle.  
In common with so many days this year low grey cloud seemed to suck the colour out of the landscape.  I don't actually think I have kayaked under blue skies or in sunshine so far this year.
 Approaching La Cotte de St Brelade, one of the major archaeological sites in Jersey.  Take a look here for further information
Snow lying on the beach is pretty rare in Jersey.
Pt Le Fret is often an ominous looking headland, and today with the low grey cloud was no exception.  The remnants of an Atlantic swell were dissipating their energy on the surrounding rocks so I took a slightly wider track than normal.
From Pt Le Fret it was possible to look east towards Noirmont but today my journey involved heading west.
From Pt Le Fret I headed offshore and west towards Corbiere.  The north easterly wind and ebbing tide certainly assisted my progress.  According to my GPS, I peaked at 7.7 knots although I noticed that I went above 7 knots on several occasions.
St Brelade's Bay looked quite distant and as I moved away from the shelter of the land the surface of the water became a bit more lively.  I saw 2 fishing boats but apart from those I had the sea to myself.
Beauport as it looks in the summer and as it looked today.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jersey in the Snow Part 2

After a quick return home to warm up it was a surprise to see that the snow had turned to freezing rain.  Everything was coated in a layer of ice, including the windows of the house.  With unusual weather conditions like this, I always feel that it is important to get outside and make the most of it.  This time we walked west towards Corbiere, along the cliff path, before heading towards St Ouen's Bay.
The view from the conservatory window.  Freezing rain had coated everything in a layer of ice.
The beach close to the desalination plant.  In places on the cliff path crampons would probably have been a useful item of equipment.
 A small beach to the east of Corbiere.  Landing here in a kayak would have been an entertaining challenge!
 Gorse covered in a layer of ice.  Conditions like this poses significant problems for some of the wildlife of the area.
Corbiere looking slightly different to last Sunday, when we paddled around the outside of the lighthouse
 Petit Port, snow doesn't lie on the beach that often in Jersey.
Some of the hundreds of Lapwings which were flying over.  Probably driven south by harsher weather conditions further north.
St Ouens Bay with an unusual coating.  It was time to head into the warmth of La Pulente for lunch.

Jersey in the snow

The forecast snow arrived during the early hours of the morning, making travel problematic but raising the hopes of the island school children, for an extra day off school.  Road conditions were such that the school bus service was unable to operate and the runway remains closed at the airport.  Traffic misery for some but bliss for others.
An early morning walk over the cliffs revealed just how cold it was with a significant wind chill.  No kayaking in prospect today.

 It is a day for the kayaks to stay on the rack in the Garden.
The Corbiere road heading west.  Traffic was limited and schools were closed.
Looking across the gorse covered headland towards the weather radar.
The snow was being driven in by a south easterly which was blowing at 34 knots.  Coupled with the below freezing temperatures it was a bitterly cold daybreak.  It reminded me of Scottish mountains in winter rather than the most southerly cliffs in the British Isles.
It's hard to imagine that only 5 days earlier we had wandered through these rocks, some of us still wearing shorts for paddling.
Gorselands as it appears during the summer months.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The South West Corner of Jersey

The south west corner of Jersey is essentially my home waters and this morning we managed to fit in the first paddle of the year to Corbiere, which must be one of the most spectacular lighthouses in the British Isles.  
This was the area where I first ventured out in a kayak, nearly 44 years ago, but I never tire of exploring these few miles, either by kayak or on foot.  On a day like today when there is a swell and a large tide there is a real sense of the energy which is contained within the environment.   
The first visit of the year but certainly not the last.
Running the gap through the Grosse Tete.  Just after Alex and John went through a particularly large set arrived breaking over the top of all the rocks.  Discretion being the better part of valour the rest of us retreated and took the outer route.
John in Fiquet.  The granite cliffs in this bay provide nesting grounds for Peregrine Falcons during the summer months. 
 Heading past Corbiere, the westerly swell was quite entertaining.  The 13 second wave period certainly focused the mind, as it unleashed its power on the granite cliffs.

Nicky, with Corbiere behind.  Completed in 1874 its light is visible for 18 miles and must have saved hundreds of lives over the years.
Pete and Jim with the west coast of Jersey behind.  St Ouen's Bay sweeps up to L'Etacq in the distance, some of the reef breaks can just be seen above the kayaks.  To the west the nearest land is Newfoundland.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Morbihan Here We Come

It has been too long since I visited Morbihan in southern Brittany for some sea kayaking and so it was particularly pleasing when the Jersey Canoe Club decided to head south, the first weekend in May, coinciding with a Bank Holiday so we get 3 days paddling.
Flicking though some old photographs these images reminded me of what a superb kayaking destination it is with all the right ingredients, fast tidal streams, a rich historical landscape, varied wildlife and interesting scenery.
Something to dream about on a wet and windy January evening.
 Er Lannic, paddling next to a semi submerged stone circle which is approximately 5,000 years old, is not something that you have the opportunity to do every day.
 The entrance to the Gulf.  The open ocean lies ahead.
Gavrinis, one of the best preserved sites in Brittany.  Landing here isn't possible but the views are spectacular.
 A typical Morbihan paddling scene.  Wooded islands
Nicky playing in one of the areas of tidal movement.  In places the streams reach nearly 12 knots, which is always a challenge.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Sea kayaking in the East End of London

After an overcast day heading upstream the following day was simply stunning as we paddled around the Isle of Dogs.  Our aim was to visit the Thames Barrier followed by lunch in Greenwich.  An ideal way to spend a Sunday before flying home to Jersey.
Early morning  on the Thames, with the buildings of Canary Wharf providing a dramatic backdrop.
Having paddled around the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, we headed up the other side of Canary Wharf.  Greenwich, our venue for lunch, was behind us as we continued downstream.
The O2 is one of the more dramatic buildings along this stretch of the river, an area which has undergone major transformation in recent years.
A recent arrival across the River Thames is the Emirates Cable Car.  If you are in the area it is well worth a visit.

Later in the day used the cable car to access our train back to Gatwick.  The views on a day like this are superb.

Passing underneath the Emirates Cable Car, which crosses the Thames close to the O2.
Approaching the Thames Barrier.  A quick radio call for permission to pass through resulted in one the passages being opened up for us, indicated by the green arrows.
 The Thames Barrier, after we had just passed through.  It is the world's second largest movable flood barrier and was first used to defend London in 1983.  Viewed from a sea kayak it is a particularly impressive structure.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Thames Again

It doesn't matter how many times I paddle through the heart of London it is always something special.  The Jersey Canoe Club trip to paddle with Tower Hamlets Canoe Club appears to be turning into an annual fixture.  
Launching from Tower Hamlets base to run upstream on the flood tide, the national landmarks arrive quickly.  From just a few centimetres above the water the monuments take on a completely different perspective. 
Kayaking in one of the world's great cities is an exciting and memorable activity, if the opportunity arises then seize it with both hands.
The ever changing London skyline.  the last time I headed this way the Shard, wasn't quite finished
Kate outside the Tower of London.  Kayakers always seem to attract plenty of attention paddling through the heart of the capital, we appeared to be the subject of numerous photographs.

Paddling past the former Battersea Power station can't help but bring back memories of the Pink Floyd album, Animals.
Leaving Vauxhall, where we had been for a meal.  It always amazes me how tolerant the owners of the restaurant are, when soggy kayakers descend on their establishment

 The Houses of Parliament, a familiar site from both land and water.  I always prefer the night time.
 The London Eye always looks more spectacular as night falls.
 Approaching Tower Bridge, by the time we arrived it was pitch black.  We had plenty of lights on the kayaks plus head torches as back up, essential items of equipment because of the density of other traffic on the water.